What Does It Take?

When I read the comments to my post about an encounter I had in a California church, I was surprised by how many people asked, “What does it take to learn a new language?” Inquirers like Angel, Luckna, and others wanted to know what really “works.” I’ve thought about what it takes to learn a new language, and in my experience, here’s what you need:

Good resources. Having a programme like Rosetta Stone is a great start, and you can learn with it alone. I recommend that you also tune in to other feeds if you can; radio, TV, music, and novels are all great helpers. I remember watching TV in German as a child and learning a great deal from some dubbed Star Trek (Star Trek: The Original Series dubbed into German for broadcast in Germany) and some original German (the very psychedelic Die Konferenz Der Tiere). Including never to underestimate the planning power of escaped circus lions.

Good friends: Maybe this isn’t always possible, but whenever it is, do go out and make new

friends to practice your target language with. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have an Internet connection. That also means you have no excuses for not befriending someone who speaks the language you want to speak. (Why not reach out to someone in the comments box below?) I’ve found that having friends who are native speakers of Filipino (Tagalog) helps me massively. Even just saying “hello” on Facebook Chat and exchanging a few words in Tagalog keeps me in practice and increases my familiarity. The more you expose yourself to your target language, the better off you are—believe me.

pink flower

Persistence: Practicing for three hours a week is great; completing a two-hour session, twice a week is better. What’s best of all is doing a half-hour block every day. I know life’s hard, hectic, busy, and generally crazy—especially these days. All the more reason to set aside a half-hour session every day to work quietly, peacefully, and productively on your language skills. Who knows where those daily half-hours will lead you? A dream vacation in a country where your target language is spoken, maybe a new and exciting career opportunity, or perhaps even finding the love of your life! But it won’t happen without persistence.

Practice time: I asked the head of the language department at a London university what the single, most important key to language success is. I got three answers. The first was “practice.” The second was “practice. And the third? Yeah, it was “PRACTICE!” Without practice, your dream of language mastery will always be only that. There’s no substitute for the ongoing effort of learning and applying yourself.

A Sense of humour: Believe me, you’ll need it. I used to spend more time than I care to admit wondering why the Rosetta Stone speech-recognition technology wasn’t picking up my voice in my target languages. Then I figured out that my laptop had been automatically using the inferior integrated microphone instead of the USB headset I was yelling into. I guess shouting “Bulaklak!” at the image of a flower on my screen for a straight quarter of an hour should have tipped me off. You have to laugh—you really do—and over the course of learning, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to laugh at yourself. I recommend that you use those opportunities; they’ll help when other people laugh, too.

Has anyone else had a similar humorous experience? What obstacles do you find to learning a new language? What do you find helps you learn your target language? And does anyone have a silly story to top mine? (I really hope someone does!)

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